Alex Rhodes

Composer | Arranger | Editor

The Chinese Dynamo Project: Week 7

Inspirations

Surprisingly enough, I scrapped almost everything I had written last week.   

But, before we entirely condemn it, the material I created in the previous project update wasn’t completely futile: I was able to use both the inspiration and the introduction in this week’s iteration of an original composition. It worked out rather nicely, too. I finally have a sound I’m excited about and is reminiscent of an actual piece.

Before we go into the progress of my original composition from this week, I wanted to talk briefly about the multitudes of inspirations and motivations that went into writing this piece. As we have studied previously, Chinese instrumentations and styles find their way into numerous popular film and video game scores that inevitably become revered for their imaginative sounds. Even though I wish to write with this specific style of scoring in mind for future projects, I wanted to create a sound not influenced by the abundant video game cues I had been exposed to. I decided to go a more familiar route; one that is so ingrained in my memory and consciousness, I honestly don’t know how I didn’t reference it weeks earlier. The underscores and background cues written for the Walt Disney World parks will forever be one of the fundamental and crucial reasons why I got into music in the first place. And, in theme with the styles we’ve learned thus far in this project, I wanted to write something that reminded me of the music composed for the China pavilion within the World Showcase of the EPCOT Park. It’s a very simple style, meant for the calming atmosphere of modest background music. Yet, it always expertly combines polyphonic melodies that play with each other and constantly evolve, all the while keeping a very minimalistic feel that lacks time as a driving force.  I wanted to recreate these ideas by mixing noticeable melodies and complex thoughts with a fluid, timeless pattern that both melts into the background and draws your interest. And considering the already polyphonic nature of combining four solo instruments into a single piece, I figured this would work perfectly.

  The China pavilion at the World Showcase. Image courtesy of www.wdwinfo.com

The China pavilion at the World Showcase. Image courtesy of www.wdwinfo.com

Showcase

This showcase will comprise of a rundown of all the core ideas that went into creating the chorus of the piece. Even though the piece isn’t entirely finished at this point, there is about 2.5 minutes of material that (I feel) already meets my goal of recreating the impression of music from the World Showcase pavilion.

As was mentioned last week, one of the core issues I was going to face would be to respectfully meld each solo instrument into a quartet piece that wouldn’t necessarily have any solos. I instead decided to go the complete opposite route; in order to fit with the idea of a timeless movement of notes, the listener could never really hear when one motif finishes and another begins. Below, we are going to examine 3 core motifs of the piece, voiced by the Xiao, the Erhu, and the Guzheng. Although each idea seems fairly simple by itself, the way the piece builds and incorporates every element is very reminiscent of how I wanted it to go. But, you’ll have to wait for the final project update to hear the piece in its entirety.

 Throughout the piece, I am treating the Xiao as a means for countermelodies. As the rest of the instrumentation is made up of strings, I figured that having the Xiao flute stay entirely separate from the melodies of the other instruments allowed the piece to have a much deeper and richer texture, which made it sound as if more than 4 separate instruments were playing it.

Throughout the piece, I am treating the Xiao as a means for countermelodies. As the rest of the instrumentation is made up of strings, I figured that having the Xiao flute stay entirely separate from the melodies of the other instruments allowed the piece to have a much deeper and richer texture, which made it sound as if more than 4 separate instruments were playing it.

 This melody is actually doubled in the Guzheng. You might also notice some double stops: I wrote both the Erhu and the Guzheng with multiple phrases at times, which would necessitate two of each respective instrument. I guess a  quartet  wouldn’t really apply anymore…but, these things never really stay the way I plan them to. Also, notice how the rhythm of this melody is very similar to the Xiao’s, in that there is little to no syncopation and everything is built off of the downbeats. As you’ll see in the Guzheng line, there are some minor polyrhythmic ideas going on, but overall, I wanted everything to stay moving and melded together (as I mentioned earlier).

This melody is actually doubled in the Guzheng. You might also notice some double stops: I wrote both the Erhu and the Guzheng with multiple phrases at times, which would necessitate two of each respective instrument. I guess a quartet wouldn’t really apply anymore…but, these things never really stay the way I plan them to. Also, notice how the rhythm of this melody is very similar to the Xiao’s, in that there is little to no syncopation and everything is built off of the downbeats. As you’ll see in the Guzheng line, there are some minor polyrhythmic ideas going on, but overall, I wanted everything to stay moving and melded together (as I mentioned earlier).

 The Guzheng line is my favorite that I’ve written so far, just based on how it sounds. I was able to find a really excellent sounding Guzheng VST, which works perfectly for the wide range of octaves I have written (including, not pictured here, another written line specified for Guzheng tremolos).

The Guzheng line is my favorite that I’ve written so far, just based on how it sounds. I was able to find a really excellent sounding Guzheng VST, which works perfectly for the wide range of octaves I have written (including, not pictured here, another written line specified for Guzheng tremolos).

Notice how each melody above could play right after another, and it would still sound perfectly fluid. The only thing separating the motifs is what instrument each one is performed on. Also, you might not have noticed it due to their clear progression of notes, but these motifs don’t start at the same time in the piece: instead, there are offsets throughout that cultivate and develop this idea of a single flowing melody.

Of course, there is a lot written for the piece so far that I have not showcased here. But these three motifs are a good idea of the certain style and tone I’m attempting to accomplish: relaxing, flowing, inconspicuous, and absorbing. By the time the next update goes live, the piece will be completed, named, and mastered for your listening pleasure! Make sure to look for that post in 2 weeks as a recap of what we’ve gone through and learned during The Chinese Dynamo Project.

-Alex